FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 1, 2020
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Fishermen Reminded of New Regulations as July Red Snapper Opening Approaches
Descending devices and changes to hook regulations designed to help improve survival of released fish
Offshore fishing has proven to be a popular way to practice social distancing this summer while bringing some fish back to the table. To provide released fish a better chance of surviving, new regulations encouraging the use of descending devices and additional hook specifications designed to reduce release mortality are being implemented by NOAA Fisheries. Effective July 15, 2020, a descending device must be on board and readily available for use (attached to minimum of 60-feet of line with at least a 16-ounce weight) when targeting snapper grouper species in federal waters in the South Atlantic. Descending devices help reduce the effects of barotrauma, a condition that occurs when a fish is rapidly reeled up from depth. Changes in pressure cause the fish’s swim bladder to expand, filling the body cavity with air and preventing the fish from swimming back down. Signs of barotrauma include protrusion of the stomach from the fish’s mouth, bulging eyes, anal prolapse and bubbling scales. A descending device can quickly be used to transport the fish back to depth, greatly improving its chances of survival.
In addition to requiring descending devices to help reduce release mortality, beginning July 15, 2020 , non-offset, non-stainless-steel circle hooks are required when fishing for snapper grouper species with hook-and-line gear with natural baits north of 28 degrees N. latitude (approximately 25 miles south of Cape Canaveral, Florida). The new regulations also require that all hooks must be non-stainless steel when fishing for snapper grouper species with such gear in federal waters in the South Atlantic. The new requirements for descending devices and hooks apply to recreational fishermen as well as federally permitted for-hire and commercial snapper grouper vessels.
“We’ve consistently heard concerns from both commercial and recreational fishermen about the number of fish that must be released as catch limits are met and seasons closed,” said Mel Bell, Vice Chair of the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council. “It is difficult to avoid some of the co-occurring snapper grouper species such as Vermilion Snapper, Mutton Snapper, and Red Snapper. These new requirements are designed to increase awareness of best fishing practices and help reduce the number of fish that float away on any given fishing trip, a sight that no one wants to see,” explained Bell. The new descending device and hook requirements were implemented through Regulatory Amendment 29 to the Snapper Grouper Fishery Management Plan. “The Council purposely crafted the definition of a descending device in a manner that gives fishermen the flexibility to create their own devices, likely using some items they have on hand,” explained Bell. “There are also several options available for purchase. I encourage people to visit the Council’s website to get additional information on requirements. The goal is to get fishermen accustomed to using the devices and reduce release mortality.”
Fishermen are encouraged to begin using descending devices and specified hooks prior to the opening of this year’s Red Snapper season. Beginning July 10, 11 and 12 (Friday, Saturday, Sunday) and again Friday, July 17, 2020 recreational fishermen will have the opportunity to add a Red Snapper to table fare as the 4-day recreational season opens. Fishermen are limited to one fish per person per day with no minimum size limit. The commercial season will open July 13, 2020 with a 75-pound trip limit and no minimum size limit.
Learn More and Register for a Free Descending Device
Additional details on the descending device requirements, hook specifications and other best fishing practices are now available from the Council’s website at: https://safmc.net/best-fishing-practices/. The new webpage has information on proper handling techniques and identifying signs of barotrauma, how-to videos demonstrating the effectiveness of descending devices, and an online tutorial on best fishing practices. Links to state-level resources for the region are also available.
Fishermen may also qualify for a free descending device (while supplies last) by registering for the Red Snapper and Red Drum Conservation Project offered through FishSmart. The project is designed to promote best practices for releasing fish and encourage greater awareness and use of tools proven to improve fish survival. Program partners include the Fish America Foundation, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary, NOAA Fisheries, North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation, South Atlantic Fishery Management Council, South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, and Yamaha Marine Group.